Monday, January 14, 2013

5 Cool New Tools You Probably Don't Have

     As a contractor, I'm always keeping an eye out for new things on the market. Usually, I try to find stuff to make my job a little easier, sometimes I just like finding things that I'm surprised nobody thought of sooner. In that quest, I've found a few new toys that you may or may not have seen.
Here they are in no particular order and all of the titles are clickable links if you want to learn more:

1: Homax Tarp Clips

     Anyone who's ever thrown a blue tarp over the bed of a truck or a trailer knows that those preset eyelets just never seem to be in the right location for securing it once it's in place. Either that or they've completely blown out from so many uses. This little handy clip from Homax allows you to grab any part of a tarp, bite down on it like a gator and bungee it to.... well, whatever you feel like bungeeing..... bungying? bungening... um, hooking it on to.

2. Spyder Jigsaw Blades

     This double sided blade makes your average jigsaw perform like a scroll saw. The toothed back side of the blade removes material behind it allowing the blade to move through tight patterns without binding up. It can also cut in reverse. This allows not only for much tighter turns and cuts, but for a much cleaner cut which doesn't require nearly as much sanding.

3. Board Buddies

     Kickbacks aren't just for politicians and sometimes they can be downright dangerous (ask the tip of my thumb, it lost an argument with a table saw two years ago). These anti-kickback, hold down rollers attach easily onto your table saw fence for added protection. Anyone who has ever had a saw spit a piece back at them can tell you: When it's you vs. the saw..... the saw usually wins.

4. Point-N-Measure Digital Tape Measure

     Digital tape measures have been around for a while but this one is cool because it measures up to 50 feet and the price tag is only around $20.00. Also, this little puppy does the math for you. It calculates volume & area in square footage or cubic feet.

5. The Versacut

     This is a simple idea but may possibly be the most versatile saw ever. The Versacut saw utilizes multiple types of blades and comes with three: A 24T Carbide Tip blade for wood, a 44T HSS blade for cutting through aluminum and thin metal sheets and a diamond tip blade for cutting ceramic tile and cement. Try that with your ordinary circular saw.

Wow, is that five already? Geez! Ah hell, I'm adding one more. It's my blog and I can do what I want... you're not the boss of me.

6. KG's Boot Guard

     Okay, so technically this isn't a tool but boots are one of the most important things a contractor can own. In my own experience, the first thing that goes on mine is the toe. I'm always kneeling down, bent over or somehow scraping the toe of my boots along the ground. Inevitably they get worn through a lot faster than the rest of the boot, especially when I'm wearing steel-toed boots.
     This magic elixir will extend the life of your boots by adding a layers of protection to your boot tips. The applicator can be cleaned with mineral spirits for future applications (1 bottle typically can handle three pairs of boots).

     And there you go! My 2013 list of top 5 6 cool tools you probably don't have. Know of some other cool ones? Drop me a line at Focalpoint Renovations or leave a link here in the comments.

As always, I'm Daniel and I'm a general contractor! <---- And wouldn't you guess it? That's STILL a link!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kitchen Design: Layout, Location and Flow

   Kitchens... such a simple word.    

Kitchens are places we used to sit around as kids while Mom whipped up some of the fondest food memories of our lives.

Kitchens are also places you could run into right from the school bus, throw your back-pack on the counter, whip open the fridge hoping to find something better than the left-overs of last night's "fondest food memory" (Let's be honest, even Mom got it wrong sometimes)


Now, as a homeowner, kitchens are... well, they're a nightmare.

Everybody wants the perfect kitchen, you know, a place where your close friends can hang out when you have those impromptu casual Friday night dinners? Where they all can't stop complimenting you on how open, spacious and inviting your kitchen is? And how wonderful all the food you prepared looks under the perfectly dimmed lighting of the seemingly limitless counter space you have? And how your kitchen was obviously built to prepare the finest Cuisine... not 'Quiz-ine'... 

(Please stand by for a word from Wiki-Focal-pedia)

1. A style or method of cooking whereby guests are mystified as to what it could possibly be.
2. Food cooked in a certain way, usually lacking intention, skill or the necessary tools to prepare it with.

mystery meat - frat house fricassee - sh*t-on-a-shingle  

(Now back to our blog)

Well all of that comes at a price and when it comes to renovations, kitchens are usually at the top of the budgetary food chain. So how do we take our kitchens to the next level? And how do we do it without completely breaking the bank?

We start with the layout.

A big mistake I see a lot of designers and contractors make is feeling the need to move EVERYTHING around. Now, in some circumstances that might be the correct answer but often things make sense right about where they were originally intended to be, give or take a couple of inches.
Let's take a look at a project that we here at Focalpoint Renovations just completed. The original kitchen wasn't really bad it was just... (here comes my favorite word)... Dated.

Take a look:
Kitchen cabinets before demolition

Here's another view looking through the kitchen into the adjoining living space.The hardwood flooring was actually installed in the opposite directions as the two rooms met making each room feel even more separated. That bothered my sense of flow from the beginning and as those who know me will tell you, "Know your flow!"

Island before remodeling

There is a bank of cabinets on the left there that was half a desk area combined with an awkward wine bottle display above. Let me show you that.

Original kitchen

Lord knows I understand sitting down to pay the bills could drive a person to drink but, I wasn't quite sure exactly what was happening here with this half desk/half wine cabinet area. What I did know was that we had some dated white thermofoil cabinets, Corian countertops and walls that were painted... um, I don't know. What are we calling that color, Blandberry? Mauve-itov cocktail? 
This kitchen spoke to me, but it spoke in the Microsoft language of Windows 98. It said things like, " Re-elect President Clinton" and "What's this new eBay thing I keep hearing about?"

In any case, the homeowner actually really liked white cabinets and wanted to stick with that look. 
So here was our challenge:  
Update the space without making it feel like we rebuilt the same kitchen... all over again. 

Oh, and we needed the budget to stay as trimmed as possible (that always seems to be the case, doesn't it?)

Step 1: Figure out what the customer wants and how much of the existing layout we can work with. 
Customer requests:

  1. Bigger island for entertaining
  2. More cabinet space
  3. Relocate Cook-top area
  4. Update lighting design
  5. Update fireplace

Existing locations:

  • Sink: Yup, that bugger sits nicely under the window looking onto the enclosed deck. You stay put.
  • Dishwasher: To the right side of the sink. This works great for the water & drain hook-ups and that's exactly where we will leave that little guy.
  • Oven: We have an updated, electric double oven that isn't very old, if we can utilize the relative location, we'll have our power requirements pretty much where we need them.
  • Cook-top: Sorry... you're in the island and we don't like you there anymore. You take up too much space and you have to go.
  • Refrigerator: You're in a tight spot too to the right of the double oven. If only we could find a new home for you so that everything wasn't sitting on top of each other.

The last request was to address the cobblestone fireplace in the adjoining living area. She never liked it because she felt it was bland, had a massive limestone mantle & hearth and she really wished she could somehow get a flat screen T.V. up there.

Beyond just the cabinet design, it becomes obvious they've set these two rooms up independently of each other. There is even a breakfast table with hanging light smack dab in the middle dividing the two rooms. Even though these rooms have no walls separating them, it sure seems that someone drew a line in the sand and never wanted the two to play together. If we could somehow stretch this kitchen towards the living area and make the living area feel more like an extension of the kitchen... well then, we just might have something!

 Here's where we begin to see opportunity

We have two entrances to the enclosed deck, a 6' sliding glass door in the kitchen and a 36" french door around the corner in the living area (you can see the slider in the second picture posted above). If we sacrifice that sliding glass door, we could extend our kitchen cabinets along that wall towards the living area and even get that bigger island she wanted. That would probably give us even more room to create a new Cook-top area somewhere along the wall instead of the island where it was. Heck, why don't we just relocate the fridge as well while we're at it?? 
Well, we did. (Notice I cut right to the chase, no drama. I'm no Steven King)

With the help of our friends at Cyr Lumber we utilized DeWils Cabinetry and here's what we came up with:

Built-in Thermador refrigerator

A beautiful built-in, Thermador stainless steel refrigerator and a gas cook-top with a cabinet enclosed hood vent. (We can't mention the cook-top without thanking our good friends at Tech Welding/Mad Mounts for punching out the custom stainless steel flange adapter to pop that puppy in place).
What about that sink area? We left it right where it was with a couple of fancier options such as instant hot water, water purification and in-counter mounted soap dispenser to clean away the memories of the previous kitchen design.

Cooktop and hood

Not everything got bigger, with the additional cabinetry, we were able to shrink the wine display area down to a more appropriate size, lose the desk feature and tie it together with a marble backsplash and beverage refrigerator below. Using varying depth sizes in the upper cabinets made the areas more interesting and got away from what I call, 'the bowling alley effect' where everything follows one continuous visual line.
Finally, this area says 'Entertainment' not 'Sit here and pay your insurance bill'.

Wine storage area

Another upside of having moved the refrigerator is that we were able to slide the double oven a few feet to the right of its original location, incorporate a microwave into the upper cabinetry and open up even more counter and cabinet space.

Double oven cabinet
All of these changes allowed us to build the real Focalpoint ™  of the kitchen (like what I did there?):
Our massive 4 seat, 10' 4" x 30" island. Fantasy cream granite offset in an antiqued black finish give this kitchen the much desired seating area that it was lacking.

Here is a view looking back into the kitchen from the living space:

Kitchen Renovation

The granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and hardware, carefully located recessed lighting and pendants, and updated hardwood flooring (installed in the same direction as the living area) all helped to bring this room to life.

But there was still one element we wanted to take advantage of and that was the fireplace. It was a very interesting cobblestone but it was tall and narrow. The hearth felt very plain and the mantle was big and set fairly high.
We wanted to allow this fireplace to maintain some of it's original charm but I personally wanted it to feel wider and have more visual weight. We also needed to incorporate the ability to install a flat screen television so we came up with a fairly simple solution. Remove the mantle and the hearthstone, then build a surround that had some of the same character of the kitchen cabinetry. Installing an absolute black granite hearthstone helped make the other fireplace features pop.
The ultimate goal was to help draw the two rooms together and make them feel like one continuous larger room and less like two separate spaces.

We also smoothed out the ceilings. That circular swirl may have been fancy 15 years ago but now it just made me dizzy and anxious. Here's the fireplace before and after:

Fireplace before and after

And here's what the two rooms now feel like when you enter through the kitchen:

Kitchen Island

Adding a dropped light fixture and moving the breakfast table into the bay window area of the living space made for better views and comfort.

Living room renovation

Overall, we managed to make a lot happen by allowing elements of both rooms to compliment each other and taking advantage of what was already there. Part of me misses the 'Blandberry' paint? But then again, part of me still misses Nintendo and Doogie Howser, M.D.

Long live the 90's.